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The Paper Garden: An Artist Begins Her Life's Work at 72 Hardcover – April 12, 2011

4.2 out of 5 stars 64 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Intelligent and well read, a quintessential member of the British aristocracy but with a mind of her own, Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700–1788) was a late bloomer. Born to a noble family of moderate fortune, she was married, first at 17 to a much older, drunken aristocrat, in midlife, more happily, she married a loving Irish clergyman. Widowed, she began at age 72 her remarkable art of cutting and creating the 985 floral "mosaicks" as she termed them—a precursor to collage. Delany rubbed elbows with Handel, Hogarth, Jonathan Swift, King George III, and Queen Charlotte. But Delany was even more fortunate to come under the wing of a duchess who brought the cutting work to the attention of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Horace Walpole. Poet Peacock's (The Second Blush) hymn to Delany weaves in her own life and discovery of her subject and of course all the viewings of those astonishing orchid "mosaicks." 35 color illus. (Apr.)
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An intriguing, evocative aesthetic experience. A lyrical, meditative rumination on art and the blossoming beauty of self that can be the gift of age and love.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“Poet Peacock's hymn to Delany weaves in her own life and discovery of her subject.” ―Publishers Weekly

“If ever a subject and a biographer shared a sensibility, it is the bond between esteemed poet Peacock and the artist Mary Granville Pendarves Delany (1700–1788)… In this lapidary work of creative immersion, Peacock does with words what Delany did with scissors and paper, consummately constructing an indelible portrait of a late-blooming artist, an exalted inquiry into creativity, and a resounding celebration of the ‘power of amazement.'” ―Booklist, starred review

“This book layers Delany's life and work over Peacock's. It is organized by flower ― forget-me-not, thistle, poppy, etc., each a metaphor for a different phase in Delany's life. In this way, the book itself is a complicated, delicate and beautiful collage.” ―Los Angeles Times

“[A] remarkable biography.” ―More

“Affecting and engaging, Peacock's own candor combines with Delany's wit and honesty to prove that it is never too late to make a life for oneself and to be sustained by art. VERDICT: This marvelous 'mosaick' makes an indelible impression.” ―Library Journal, starred review

“[A] fascinating and beautifully made biography … It is filled with wonderfully detailed information about history and art―from the dog wheel that churned butter to the way rag paper was made… [Peacock is] interested in the pathway to art―how Mary's interests in gardening and collecting, and her practice in needlework and painting, laid the groundwork for that moment of revelation… Possessed of a discerning eye, Peacock…lavishes attention on Mary's life, both social and artistic, drenching us in vivid, sensory language as if we were adrift in champagne. The Paper Garden is perfect for the art lover, and for the reader who revels in rich digressive layers that imitate the contours of our lives.” ―Cleveland Plain Dealer

“In this lush, humane book, noted poet Molly Peacock shows a terrific hand for crafting prose as she delves into the life of Mary Delany… Peacock bravely uses her exploration of Delany to sidestep or upend the conventional place of the feminine, the craftsy, the domestic… Just as Delany makes a cosmos out of flowers, Peacock makes a cosmos out of her interest in Delany's world. In a remarkable act of observation, recuperation, and assemblage, Peacock weaves her own collage--cutting between Mary Granville's early life and times, her later flowering into art, and Peacock's own journey as a 21st century sympathizer with Mary's loves and ambitions. What emerges is fascinating both because it is surprisingly and keenly observed… To call this book small or quiet would be somehow to belittle what Peacock has so beautifully magnified and made resonant--the triumph of art as a human pursuit, and the curious webs from which both art and craft spring. This book is not flashy, but it is one of the more beautifully constructed and deeply engrossing books I have read in some time. It is a keen reminder of what the fruits of vivid watching--and passionate living--can offer.” ―Barnes & Noble Review


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 397 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1st edition (April 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1608195236
  • ISBN-13: 978-1608195237
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.5 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #770,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
First, let me say that this actual, physical book is a treat. It's exactly what I want when I spend money on a hardcover book. It's just a bit heavier than most books and it's printed on high-quality paper. There are colored prints of some of Mary Delany's flower "mosaicks" and other pictures throughout. The book is the type of treasure that I feel compelled to wash my hands before opening it. I want it to last.

The story of Mary Delany is true but it reads like a great historical novel. The New York Times said it read like a Jane Austen novel. I'm not sure I agree. Mary Delany was a strong-willed woman who managed to do very well in spite of whatever negatives life may have thrown at her. It's a life to be examined and works of art to be enjoyed.

Every word, sentence, and paragraph of The Paper Garden reads like a well-crafted prose or poem. This is Molly Peacock's art form, her craft, and she's very, very good at it. In this book Ms. Peacock talks about the art of Mary Delany but also about the importance of art or craft in one's life that I completely agree with. Here's what she said:

"Craft is engaging. It results in a product. The mind works in a state of meditation in craft, almost the way we half-meditate in heavy physical exercise. There is a marvelously obsessive nature to craft that allows a person to dive down through the ocean of everyday life to a sea floor of meditative making. It is an antidote to what ails you."

In The Paper Garden the author tells us in great detail about the life of Mary Delany and a little bit about herself. I liked that. Molly Peacock made this biography personal and linked it to herself and to me.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mary Delany's life story and art are amazing and enthralling. While Molly Peacock deserves credit for reintroducing Mary Delany's life and art, she misses the mark by injecting her own life and 21st century sensibilities. I've not read Molly Peacock's poetry, but she describes her early poetry as being sexually graphic, and unfortunately, graphic sexual images seem to be the reoccurring prism through which she sees Mary Delany's 18th century life and art, and it doesn't work. Similarly, Molly Peacock compares her life and family to Mary Delany's, and though she tells it in an engaging way, the book should be about Mary Delany, not Molly Peacock. I was intrigued by Mary Delany and subsequently ordered a 2004 British book, Mrs. Delany: Her life and her flowers, by Ruth Hayden, a descendant of Mary Delany's. This is the book you want to read if you want to know about Mary Delany, her life in 18th century England and Ireland, the people she knew, and her art.
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Format: Hardcover
I'd never heard of Mary Delany before I read this book. Her mosaicks are beautiful and her story is compelling. The book is a combination biography and memoir. Molly Peacock weaves her own story in and among Mary Delany's and her observations are interesting and somewhat thought-provoking. This isn't a book to rush through but it was still too slow for me. It was also much more scholarly than I'd anticipated and at times almost reads like a textbook.

I had a really hard time getting into it. It fascinated me, it didn't resonate with me. I do think that The Paper Garden is one I could go back to at some point in my life and savor it then, as I can't now. Sometimes appreciation of a book is all about timing. Mine seems to be outside the norm, however, and many other reviews are glowing and very positive.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
By page 40 of the book, I realized two things. One, that although I'd never heard of Mary Delany (the artist)before, her life story was going to be interesting, and two, that Molly Peacock (the author) isn't someone I like very much. As other reviewers have remarked, there is simply too much Molly Peacock in this book. In purchasing the book about Mary Delany, I didn't need or want to know about Molly Peacock's alcoholic father or her marriages and, after the first 40 pages, I found it more satisfying to skip the sections on Molly. And I don't know about you, but I can look at a flower and recognize it as the sexual organ of a plant without translating all its bits to corresponding bits on people. That Molly Peacock apparently cannot becomes off-putting pretty quickly. Molly Peacock is just too pretentious - and somehow through this, the interesting story of Mary Delany comes through enough that you want to get to know her much better but preferably without having Molly forced onto you at same time. Mary's story demonstrates that strong, independent women have been around for a very long time - and while I'm grateful to be introduced to her, I wish it could have been without all of Molly's baggage.
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Format: Hardcover
Parts of this book were fascinating, but the author dwells too much on her own personal experiences, all of which, I am certain are interesting to her, but not to the reader, or to this reader, at least. I wasn't sure, either, why the author used four letter words, graphic descriptions of people's bathroom habits and descriptions of her (the author's) sex life. What did that have to do with the subject of the book? Ms. Peacock had much information to recount, but she didn't stay on the topic of Mrs. Delany, whose life and art were far more interesting than the author's. Too bad, a good biography that just misses because it doesn't stay on the topic.
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